Sunday, January 15, 2012

You Open to the World ("you" vs "I" in a poem)

I'm working on a new poem.  It's a mystery how it came into life although the midwife is enough gifted and magically so, it's a mystery why I say it's a mystery.

Second poem in a row I've opened a collection of Borges' poems and found a word to start me. When you think of Borges, with his bottomless knowledge of myth and bottomless well of mythical creation, it may seem a poor reflection on duncehead simple-minded me that the word was, in fact, "myth."  But there you have it. When a girl is starting a new poem, she ingests the sure witchery without looking back, the sure transformation from emotion to word with gratitude and unquestioning acceptance. 

I began:

Myth is the man with the hook
cramped on the door handle of
my family's red Rambler.  Seems
I'm about to leak the hue's variant,
a worser rose oxidized in
Mulholland's moist night air.
The poem moves on to the hereafter and the here and now.  Writing some days later, some drafts later, I realized that what satisfied me most about the poem--it's obvious hint of self-revelation--worked against the poem opening to the universal and becoming more than confessional. So (with the second stanza added here) I changed pronouns:

Myth is the man with his hook
cramped on the door handle of
your family's red Rambler. 
Seems you're about to leak the hue's
variant, a worser rose oxidized in
Mulholland's moist night air.
Your death will be a mystery because
you don't drive on Mulholland at night.
As a reader I'm now more excited about the poem, where it's heading.  I have a tingling sense of participation.  Granted, I'm easy, a willing participant, happy to be suspended in disbelief, more so after the change because I'm a "you."

This poem, currently "Poem for Mr. Sage," weaves death, the caring and uncaring universe, kindness, callousness, connection, family, a lover.  I think it does, anyway.  I believe the poem stands a better chance of being what I just promised it was, with the pronoun substitution.  YOU, dear reader, are invited in through more stanzas, more transformation.


  1. You are doing a service to talk about pronouns and what they might mean in terms of inclusion/etc.

    When a poem begins with "I" (I have written a few but no longer do so) I don't read much more than that egotistical pronoun. It's a pet peeve, I know, and others will disagree because there is this great poem beginning with I by...but I figure it is always possible to find another way to begin than by using the very personal and limiting "I" as an opener. Christina Pacosz

  2. That's a great comment, Christina. I have been using and probably overusing "I" lately--it does work and is poetically suitable for some poems--but it was intensely valuable to remember the substitution and its possibilities. I remember how excited I was the first time I substituted "you" some years ago, so I've was especially gratified to tap into that excitment and exploration. Thanks for stopping by.